Leaving aside the comparison with the Jacksonian movement, just looking at Trump’s movement awakens some sense of surprise. Part of the irony for the Trumpians is that Trump himself does not rail against big government, but most Trumpians would; Trump is not a conservative, whereas most of his supporters are; Trump himself is part of the business-political elites, whereas his followers are not; Trump says nothing about states’ rights or returning to constitutional Federalism, but many of his supporters would. Ideologically, most Trumpians are probably closer to Cruz or even to Rubio than to Trump. On the other hand, Senator Cruz is well-within the genuine conservative political traditions of this country, and he is both brilliant and learned. But Trump provides something that neither Senator Cruz nor Senator Rubio presents: a strangely charismatic political figure who is in some senses larger than usual life. Rubio’s charge pronounced yesterday, that Trump is a “con man,” is not altogether false, and Trumpians probably know this. Nor is the previous charge that he is a “clown,” “flamboyant,” or even “ego-maniacal,” as we hear charged. There is truth in all of these labels. (Note: who but an ego-maniac would present himself or herself as the best candidate for President? Maybe the elder Bush, but then, he felt “entitled” to hold power, did he not?)
There is a mass movement stirring under Trump. He has been carried on it, and he stirs it up, and feeds on it. A sizable part of the American electorate, turned off by all politicians, has been longing for a powerful figure to smash much of the American political mess. Along comes Trump. The smashing effort will probably not work well, because party machines and bureaucracies, once solidified in power as ours are, do not change much at all from external forces. Trump could effect some political changes, and surely he would set out to undo some of the worst damage inflicted by Obama, and even by Clinton-Bush-Obama. He will try. Again, political realities do not change easily or wholly. How could anyone undo the enormous political and social damage inflicted by recent American regimes, especially by Bush and Obama, on the Middle East? Especially with Russia and Iran unleashed there, how does America even carve out a sphere for responsible and prudent action? The task has been made incredibly difficult by what our two recent administrations have done. I cite this as an example of the enormous task of changing political realities, especially once destruction has been wrought. Unleashing forces of destruction is much easier than bringing back order. No one can accomplish very much in this area, although Trump intends to try. He has promised to smash ISIS quickly, and to seek to broker peace between Israel and its neighbors—admitting that the task would be the most challenging of his life. He is a realist, but has a noble goal towards working for peace in the Middle East. Chances for success at this time do not seem high, given the millennial history of hatred between Israelis and Palestinians, and more recently, between millions of Muslims and the state of Israel.
I shall offer more on the Trumpian movement later. In sum, suffice it to note that it combines at least two major elements: an attitude of rebellion against the powers that be, and especially against the two political parties and their failures to govern well from Washington; and a desire for genuine leadership that can accomplish good political results, such as protecting the body politic from Islamist terrorism, and from intellectual terrorism by the American quasi-Marxist Left, summed up in the phrase, “political correctness.” It is the reaction to these forces that feeds the pro-Trump movement. Trump garnered leadership in this movement by his independence from both party establishments; by his history of “getting deals done,” hence showing leadership; and by his utter disdain for politically correct language, time and again. Whether one likes these positions or dislikes them is irrelevant to a political scientist who is trying to understand political reality in its complexities.
An electoral note: Because Trump is not an ideologue nor even a genuine conservative, but a populist and a pro-American nationalist, his appeal crosses party lines. He will draw on support from Republicans, Democrats, independents. That is the primary reason why he can and beat Clinton in the general election. Her appeal is narrowly to loyal Democrats and to ideologically fixed Progressives; and she may be able to draw in some forces aligned with the Republican Establishment, which detests Trump precisely because he threatens and undermines their monopoly of power in the Republican Party. Two of the best states in which to test the thesis of Trump’s appeal would be Pennsylvania and Michigan, states which Democrats have carried fairly handily for decades in Presidential elections. One should also test the appeal of Clinton versus Trump in Florida, such a decisive state; a Republican must carry Florida to win the White House. Pay attention to voter turnout in Michigan and Florida, and see how Clinton compares to Trump for the upcoming general election this November.
Primary note: The Republican machine utterly failed to stop Trump with their chosen tool, Jeb! Bush. Once this Bush got resoundingly defeated and withdrew from the primaries after South Carolina, the Party machine and huge big money backers quickly moved into the camp of Senator Rubio, who had already attracted some very wealthy backers and PAC money. (Republican power brokers hate Senator Cruz, who is no Party puppet, but an independent thinker and voice, something considered dangerous to established power.) Most of what happens in politics happens behind closed doors, so we do not know, but my guess is that clever minds like Karl Rove and other George-Jeb Bush handlers are now advising Rubio. Hence, he has come out swinging hard and low against Trump (who knows how to kick below the belt, too). What I know is that the usual Republican Party intellectual voices we hear in mass media, such as Rove, G Will, Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, and others, utterly detest Trump.Their main problem with Trump they do not admit in public, and perhaps not to themselves: they and the Party machine cannot control Trump—neither his actions nor his mouth. They controlled the Bushes, and now they control Rubio. Big money and power are at work. Trump has plenty of money of his own, and the power of the Trumpian movement behind him, to give him independence from the Republican Establishment.
—Wm. Paul McKane
27 Feb 2016